Investigations into the financial dealings of a couple suspected of laundering millions of euro still has to determine the illicit source of the allegedly laundered funds.
Gordon Debono and his wife Yvette have spent the past three weeks under preventive custody after pleading not guilty upon their arraignment on November 25. They were back in court on Wednesday afternoon for the first hearing of the compilation of evidence.
Yet, following lengthy testimony by prosecuting Inspector Omar Caruana about the nature of the investigations into voluminous financial data relating to the couple’s bank accounts as well as other documents recording property transfers, no specific ‘predicate offence’ could be identified.
“It could be any offence,” the witness replied, when questioned by the woman’s defence lawyer, Joe Giglio.
Pressed further for an explanation by the court, presided by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, Caruana explained that police investigations were still ongoing and that at this stage, the prosecution could not pinpoint a specific illicit source for the allegedly laundered funds
This reply prompted the court to remark that while two persons were under arrest since November, the “predicate offence, which is vital to arraignments over these crimes,” had not yet been determined.
“A specific crime, I cannot mention at this stage,” the inspector said.
Confidential information had sparked investigations against the couple back in 2013, under a joint operation with Europol and the Italian Guardia di Finanza, named Operation Proteus.
Those investigations had revealed that Gordon Debono had a Satabank account which received some €530,000 over two years, from sources including Petroplus and Petroplus Trading Ltd, two of the 11 companies where the couple held directorship roles.
That account was closed in March 2018.
Investigations also traced numerous cheques made out to Shaun Higgins, a stevedore working for Debono, who was charged separately with money laundering.
The total value of cheques cashed by Higgins was allegedly over €7.1 million, the court was told.
Acting under a search and arrest warrant, police had seized electronic devices from the couple’s home and some 30 vehicles belonging to Debono and his wife, who, in spite of claiming that she had held no employment for the past eight years, had purchased some €1.7 million worth of property in Cyprus.
Under interrogation, her husband had allegedly told police that he earned some €5,000 a month out of rented properties, but was unable to list those properties, the inspector explained.
Faced by questioning from Gordon Debono’s lawyer, Roberto Montalto, who pointed out that the funds, apart from those cashed by Higgins, consisted of inter-company loans, the inspector replied that some transactions were legitimate, but others were not, noting further certain payments to foreign companies.
“We are saying that there were a lot of transfers between Gordon and Yvette’s companies which were not supported by documentation.”
The court is expected to decree on bail on Thursday, and also to declare whether there is sufficient prima facie evidence for the accused to be placed under a bill of indictment.
Inspectors Joseph Xerri, Omar Caruana and James Turner prosecuted, assisted by AG lawyers Elaine Mercieca and Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango.
Lawyer Roberto Montalto was defence counsel to Gordon Debono, while lawyer Joe Giglio assisted Yvette Debono.
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